Pay and benefits feature prominently in postal reform bill

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., is shepherding the forced retirement language and several other provisions. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., is shepherding the forced retirement language and several other provisions. Susan Walsh/AP

This story has been updated.

The Senate will resume debate on postal reform Tuesday, considering several amendments to its bill that would affect workers’ pay and benefits.

Measures that would prohibit collective bargaining at the U.S. Postal Service, require retirement-eligible employees to retire, and increase the amount workers contribute to their health benefits and life insurance are among the 39 amendments the Senate plans to vote on as part of the 21st Century Postal Service Act (S. 1789). Other amendments would limit executive pay at USPS, remove language scaling back workers’ compensation benefits, and curtail the amount agencies can spend on government conferences.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., is shepherding a few amendments to S. 1789, including one that would force the Postal Service to dismiss workers who are eligible for retirement to reduce expenses. The legislation in its current form allows USPS to offer buyouts to eligible employees to reduce personnel costs, but Coburn believes requiring eligible workers to retire is a smarter and more cost-effective downsizing strategy. “S. 1789 would provide buyouts -- essentially cash bonuses or years of service credits -- to encourage postal employees to decide to retire,” said a summary of the amendment from Coburn’s office. “But there is a real risk that these buyouts will go to workers who would already be planning to retire anyway. That is, these buyouts may essentially be retirement gifts to already retiring workers.”

Coburn’s office cited USPS data stating that 30 percent of its current workforce is eligible to retire.

The amendment would apply only to postal employees currently eligible to receive a full pension under the Civil Service Retirement System or the Federal Employees Retirement System. Coburn cited mandatory retirement for federal law enforcement officers as a potential model for the Postal Service. Federal law enforcement officers are required to retire after 20 years of service or at age 57.

Coburn also is pushing an amendment to increase transparency of government conference spending, which would cap the amount agencies can spend on conferences and limit the number of employees from one agency traveling to an international conference. The Oklahoma senator has long been a critic of excessive federal spending on travel and meetings. “Dr. Coburn believes the problem with conference spending is Congress, not the [General Services Administration] or any other agency,” said a statement from Coburn’s office. “Congress has fostered a spring-break mentality at agencies by looking the other way.”

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has offered an amendment that would prohibit collective bargaining, while Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., is seeking to limit executive compensation. Paul also put forth an amendment that would provide merit pay for the postmaster general and limit the authority of USPS to award bonuses.

As for health care benefits, the bill would allow USPS to work with its unions to develop a health care plan for workers outside the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. Some have argued that would lead to an increase in how much postal employees pay for their health care. An amendment from Sen. John (Jay) Rockefeller, D-W.Va., would ensure any new health program would provide benefits comparable to those under FEHBP.

Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain’s substitute to S. 1789, offered as an amendment, would require postal workers to contribute the same premium percentage as other federal employees. Currently, USPS picks up the tab for about 80 percent of the premiums while most other federal agencies pay 72 percent of employees' premiums.

Update: Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., plans to offer the amendment limiting executive pay for senior officials at the Postal Service. Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., withdrew a similar amendment.

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